Cambridge coach Jack Baird has fielded two goalkeepers in his team for Twickenham as he tries to make it four wins in five years for the Light Blues in the women’s Varsity Match at Twickenham (kick-off 11.30am).
Loose head prop Laura Bleehen converted from the women’s football team after finally beating Oxford at the third attempt earlier in the year, while full back Hannah Vandersluis plays in goal for Stevenage ladies when she isn’t on the rugby pitch.
Cardiff-born Bleehen will be playing only her 10th game of rugby when she steps out at the home of English rugby, but Baird has been impressed with the way she has adapted to her new sport.
“This season we have worked on increasing our numbers and we picked up some real talent at our taster days. We attracted some girls from football, hockey and basketball and Laura was one of them,” explained Baird.
“She has been the Varsity goalkeeper for the past three years, but has taken so well to her new sport that she is starting in the front row at Twickenham despite only ever having played nine games of rugby in her life.”
Cambridge have already picked up one win over their biggest rivals this season, a four-try, 24-5 win at Grange Road in the BUCS Premier South league. But Baird is wise enough not to let that cloud his judgement ahead of the big day.
As he knows only too well, even the best laid plans, and the best teams, can come unstuck at Twickenham – like his 2015 team found out with their shock 3-0 loss.
“Part of the beauty of the Varsity Matches, both men’s and women’s, in that you don’t know what is going to happen or who is going to win,” he added.
“The atmosphere can get to some players and we’ve tried to regenerate as many old Blues as possible to try to overcome any problems with nerves. The one thing you can bank on in this game is that the form book can go out of the window.
“It is the team that stays the calmest, and gets into their game plan first, that is most likely to come out on top.”
Oxford have been boosted by the news that inspirational skipper Hazel Ellender has won her fitness battle to lead the side. She damaged knee ligaments in the win over the Major Stanley’s XV last month and hasn’t played since.
The 21-year-old Harlequins Development Squad front row forward will be winning her third Blue and is looking for her first win.
“I’ve lost two Varsity Matches at Twickenham and I don’t want to feel that again. Losing at Cambridge earlier in the season defeat certainly hurt, but it will have no bearing on what happens at Twickenham – I’m confident we will come back stronger for the experience.,” said Ellender.
Oxford will go in with 10 Blues in their starting XV and two more on the bench, while Cambridge skipper Fiona Shuttleworth will be one of six Blues taking the field with one more on the bench. Shuttleworth stars in the back row alongside twin sister Jenni.
The two teams will meet for a third time this season in the return BUCS Premier South fixture at Iffley Road on 29 January, 2020.
Connie Hurton * (Queen Elizabeth GS, Penrith & Pembroke)
Clodagh Holmes (Chellaston Academy, Derby & University)
Abby D’Cruz * (Como Secondary College, Perth, Western Australia & Keble)
Nina Jenkins (Hills Road Sixth Form College & Keble)
Helen Potts * (Bolton Girls’ School Division & New)
Pat Metcalfe-Jones * (Hockerill College & Christ Church)
Sile Johnson (Presentation College, Bandon & St Hugh’s)
Hazel Ellender * (King Edward VI GS & St Cross, captain)
Anna Bidgood * (Sedbergh School & University)
Jessica Abele * (Schickhardt Gymnasium, Germany & Exeter)
Katie Collis * (City of London Freemen’s School & Lincoln)
Carla Schmidt (Paul-Pfinzing Gymnasium, Germany & Magdalen)
Ailsa Clark (Reigate College & Worcester)
Phoebe Haste * (Peter Symonds College, Winchester & Trinity)
Hannah Cooper * (Bolton School Girls’ Division & Lincoln)
Ruby James (Altrincham Girl’s GS & Worcester)
Shekinah Opara * (Wallington County GS & Keble)
Esme Haywood (Gresham’s Holt School & Brasenose)
Meryem Arik (Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls & New)
Emily Cohen (Norton Hill School & Jesus)
Zoe Nunn (Rudolf Steiner School, Kings Langley & St Catherine’s)
Megan Carter * (Invicta GS & Lincoln)
Maddie Hindson (Monk’s Walk School & Keble)
Hannah Vandersluis (Yateley School & Peterhouse)
Hannah Samuel (Tunbridge Wells Girl’s GS & Girton)
Coreen Grant (The Royal High School, Edinburgh & Corpus Christi)
Bluebell Nicholls * (Ringmer Community College & King’s)
Ella Halcrow (Rugby HS & Murray Edwards)
Elisha Clark (South Holderness Technology College & St John’s)
Kate Marks * (Exeter School & Newnham)
Laura Bleehen (Howell’s School, Llandaff & Girton)
Emma Pierce * (Bournmouth School for Girls & St Catharine’s)
Laura Nunez-Mulder * (Rydal Penrhos / Holmfirth HS & Emmanuel)
Hilde Schneeman (Regional School Community Pantarijn , Netherlands & Darwin)
Lauren Gregory (Brighton, Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College & Corpus Christi)
Jenni Shuttleworth * (Olchfa CS & Churchill)
Fiona Shuttleworth * (Olchfa CS & Pembroke, captain)
Rose Scowen (Greenhead College / Bradford GS & Magdelene)
Charlotte Manser (Drayton Manor HS & Murray Edwards)
Alice Elgar * (South Wiltshire GS & Girton)
Saffron Hicks (Colchester Royal GS & Selwyn)
Marj Heemskerk (The Mountbatten School & Trinity Hall)
Cara Prowling (Rodillian Secondary School & St John’s)
Jen Atherton (Blackwell Secondary School & Jesus)
Emma McLoughlin (Ursuline HS, Wimbledon & St John’s)
Lottie Paterson (St Mary’s School, Calne & Corpus Christi)
* Denotes Blue
Referee: Laura Pettingale (RFU)